The New York Times article on the study explains:
Take, for example, a hypothetical American woman who switches to a more fuel-efficient car, drives less, recycles, installs more efficient light bulbs, and replaces her refrigerator and windows with energy-saving models. If she had two children, the researchers found, her carbon legacy would eventually rise to nearly 40 times what she had saved by those actions.
Obviously, the hypothetical above doesn’t take into account the presence of a second parent.
The carbon impact of pushing out a tyke or two varies depending on where you live. In China, for example, the carbon footprint of a woman who chooses to have a child will be seven times smaller. Again, this calculation doesn’t acknowledge an additional parent, but it does take into account that the child may be responsible for future generations of carbon-emitters:
… each child is, in turn, likely to have more children. And because the calculations derive from the fertility rate — the expected number of children per woman in various countries — the findings focus on women, although clearly men participate in the decision to have children.
O.S.U. professor of statistics Paul Murtaugh, feels that the knowledge derived from the study is indispensible to the international dialogue on climate change:
“In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime … Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.”
So, lilies, has the reality of climate change affected your plans to start a family? I’m not sure if children are in my future, but as the effects of population growth on climate change started to become apparent, I began thinking that adoption might be the way to go.
Even if you do want spawn of your very own, the study suggests that having one less child than you planned is a big help to the environment. (That means two forms of protection, folks!) Here’s how that adds up:
Under current conditions in the U.S. … each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.
Naturally, I’m pro-choice, and that goes both ways: The government shouldn’t put a cap on the size of your family. (In an ideal world, we’d be educated enough to do that ourselves.) The OSU researchers feel the same way:
… they are not advocating government controls or intervention on population issues, but say they simply want to make people aware of the environmental consequences of their reproductive choices.
“Many people are unaware of the power of exponential population growth,” Murtaugh said. “Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.”